BlogHer Thoughts

Last Saturday, I spent the day with Ashley at BlogHer, a conference focused on women and blogging. An interesting conference, especially given that I was one of the relatively few men in the audience – at least Niall Kennedy and Jeff Clavier were there for moral support.

A couple observations from the conference:

  • Women can be way more supportive than guys: The opening session featured high spirits, of the “you go, girl!” variety. While Bloggercon was a positive crowd, it was far more subdued in the expression of its spirit than BlogHer.
  • Women can be way crueler than men: I was alerted to a previously unknown genre in the blogging world – the mommy blog. Apparently there are mixed feelings towards them, though I’m not really sure why. But I sensed much tension, and overheard a number of snide comments muttered in both directions. Hmm.
  • Women are gravely concerned about how their online persona will be interpreted in the real world: During the business blogging session, a number of women voiced their belief that women had to be careful with their personal blogs. The concern? That by putting parts of their personal life online (for example: pictures and stories about their kids), potential employers or clients would they were more concerned about their personal life than their professional life. Sadly, I’d have to agree that it’s probably true.

There was a lot of concern about rankings expressed in the opening sessions – specifically Technorati‘s listing of top 100 popular blogs (Niall took a couple for the team Dave – give ’em a day off!). More interesting was Mary Hodder‘s idea to have the attendees band together to define a less two-dimensional ranking system would allow a reader more easily find blogs they like. Part of me believes this might be an unsolvable problem, as what people really want is a way to have a computer to know what they want – I believe there are limits to how well this can work. On the other hand, I think there are some tools, such as Rojo that make it about as easy as possible to find blogs and posts you might be interested in reading.

The final note I wanted to share with the attendees of BlogHer occurred to me during the “Funding” session dedicated to providing women with information on funding an online business. A lot of the concern in the room was about how to attract the interest of angels (“I’ve got a job, kids; who’s going to fund me? Where are the female-focused angels?”) and I think it really detracted from driving home the point that women have unique skills that will allow them to spot and exploit market opportunities. For one, women control the majority of the consumer spending in North America – and who better to know what women want and sell to that market than female entrepreneurs? For another, women look at things in a completely different way (just ask Guy Kawasaki – he explicitly recommends entrepreneurs ask women for advice when creating new products).

If you build it, they will come!

BloggerCon Summary

I’m attended BloggerCon on Saturday and spent the entire day milling about with a fair percentage of the blogosphere’s brain trust. If there’s one thing I love about these kind of events, it’s the quality of the conversations that people have at these events. The vibe is that of an autistic four year old hopped up on sugar trying to stand still for two seconds.

Conversations here have this rushed, gasping quality – the participants are hemorrhaging ideas and running out of breath at the same time. The experience seems to almost cause physical pain for the person talking, as if their ability to push out the maximum number of ideas per syllable is being sabotaged by their own body’s inferior low-bandwidth design.

That said, not all everything was smiles, sunshine, and cerebral hemorrhages in bloggerland yesterday. One of the rules of the conference, that vendors are not allowed to pitch their products, caused a certain amount of difficulty during the day. One particular incident involved Dave Winer shutting down Bob Wyman (of PubSub) when he attempted to provide an explanation of some aspects of aggregation technology during Robert Scoble‘s “Information Overload” session. This was not especially well received by the audience (I actually left the session along with Paul Schreiber in protest), and served as a somewhat awkward point of discussion during the final wrap-up session. Dave Winer is to be commended for having the strength and courage to take the discussion on directly, especially given the fact that some of the attendees were not happy with Dave’s equally strong desire to bend the conference to his personal vision.

Inevitably, someone (Mike and Eleanor) got the bright idea that they could circumvent Dave’s control over the conference and hold a backchannel conference of their own. And include the vendors. This is especially ironic, given the origins of the conference: Dave Winer was sick of going to conferences where vendors dominated the discussion and the attendees could only have conversations in the hallway. No sooner that BloggerCon ended than a dozen or so of us wandered over to the backchannel conference, complete with just about every aggregator vendor eager to tell us what they were planning next and listen for user feedback. And if that wasn’t enough, Russell Beattie was screening Star Wars on his phone just to prove a point (it was amazingly watchable!).

All in all, an excellent experience. I have a number of other thoughts on the conference contents itself, especially with respect to Doc Searl’s “Making Money” session, but I’ll save them for another day until they’re fully baked. Besides, there’s plenty of excellent summaries of the conference sessions available out there. And if you’re really interested, you can listen to the conference yourself.

The one thing I would like to highlight is how much of the value of the conference came from the quality of conversation and connection between the participants. It’s funny – we live in a society where we close ourselves off more and more, but at the slightest inkling of a common interest the walls we erect between us come crashing down. While blogging is all about conversation and connection, we sometimes forget how important it is to just get away from the technology itself and be with real people. I’d like to thank everyone for making it a really enjoyable day and ask you to try to find a way to make these same connections in your everyday life. We don’t need a conference to make these connections happen. They should happen every day.